Grotesque (Movie Review)

Todd's rating: ★ ★ Director: Kôji Shiraishi | Release Date: 2009

More often than not, people tend to think I'm a bit touched in the head because I shamelessly enjoy what many refer to as "splatter films." Since horror movies stopped giving me the proverbial willies years ago, I satisfy my thirst for the genre by diving face first into pictures that rely heavily on gore, grue, and wanton bloodshed. My favorites are always light-hearted and incredibly silly, delicately balancing gallows humor with an insane level of on-screen violence. I blame both Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" for my obsession with this over-the-top brand of physical comedy.

As disturbed as this makes me sound, I've never been terribly fond of the "torture porn" subgenre. Watching human beings pointlessly torment other human beings doesn't sound like a good time to me, especially if cruelty is the only thing the film offers up. There are a few unruly gems buried in this neverending landslide of contenders -- "Hostel" and "Saw" immediately spring to mind -- but the majority of these endeavors always seem cold, detached, and programmed specifically to appeal to the mentally unsound. No offense.

Why I bothered to investigate Koji Shiraishi's notorious 2009 torture epic "Grotesque" (aka "Gurotesuku") can be explained in one simple word: hype. Recently, the British Board of Film Certification (BBFC) rejected the picture, due in part to the film's penchant for unruly levels of sexually-driven depravity. Truthfully, no amount of editing could secure the film a decent rating, as the picture's inherent nature is both cruel and unusual. Strip away all of the nudity and gore and you still have a movie about a guy who hacks away at complete strangers in order to achieve sexual gratification.

In terms of depth and content, there’s really not much to speak of: A severely unstable physician snatches a young Japanese couple off the streets of Tokyo and subjects them to a series of increasingly sadistic humiliations. To elicit the response he desires, the psychopath bounces back and forth between his victims, making one watch while he jabs and pokes and mutilates the other. The only means of escape for this couple, he claims, is for them to help him achieve sexual stimulation. Unfortunately, his arousal generally requires the removal of various body parts. Perversion is putting it nicely.

“Grotesque” is one sick puppy. The on-screen atrocities include, but are not necessarily limited to, necklaces crafted from severed fingers; the insertion of severed fingers into nasal passages; messy retinal ruptures; sadistic masturbation; nipple evisceration; testicular crucifixion; the graphic removal of male genitalia; sloppy disembowelment, including the securing of the intestines to a large metallic hook suspended from the ceiling. All of these heartless sequences and scenarios are presented in the most brutish fashion imaginable, making it virtually impossible to find any enjoyment whatsoever buried beneath the mountains of ravaged flesh.

The one area where Shiraishi manages to excell is the special effects. For such an obviously low-budget production, not a single penny was spared in bringing these horrific situations to life. Even the worst of the gags are well-executed, effectively increasing the level of nausea by several unholy notches. Does this make up for the overall lack of substance? Not quite. Had more attention been given to such elements as characterization, scripting, and direction, the film’s abundance of filth would have effortlessly smashed your tender psyche to mush. As it sits, its just empty gore without much to cling to.

It's hard to review a movie like "Grotesque." Fans of the much-maligned "torture porn" subgenre will probably love it, particularly those who gravitate towards the more extreme end of the spectrum. The rest of us, I'm afraid, probably won't find anything worthwhile to chew on. The effects are superb, and Shiraishi gets quite a few points for delivering some truly cringe-inducing set pieces. Other than that, the film is quite putrid and, more importantly, an absolute chore to finish. As the great literary scholar William Jonathan Drayton Jr. once boldly proclaimed, "Don't believe the hype."



Todd has been a slave to the horror genre for as long as he can remember. After cutting his teeth on late-night Cinemax schlock and the low-budget offerings found on the classic USA program "Up All Night," our hero moved valiantly into the world of sleazy obscura, consuming the oddest films from around the world with the reckless abandon of a man without fear or reason. When he isn't sitting mindlessly in front of a television set, he can be found stuffing music, video games, and various literary scribblings into his already cluttered mindscape.

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